“Ella, you are the most provoking child that ever was born. You can never let a thing alone, but must have your fingers in everything. You’ve no more idea of neatness than old Tabby; no, nor half so much. You come in from school, and bonnet goes here, and book there. It’s no use to talk to you, and one might run after you all day, and then couldn’t keep the house to rights. I declare, you’re enough to try the patience of Job!” So saying, Aunt Prudence set herself energetically to work, to put to rights the work-basket which poor Ella had most unfortunately disarranged. “I should like to know,” she continued, “what children were ever made for. I’m sure they’re nothing but bother and trouble, from week’s end to week’s end.”
Poor Ella darted up stairs to her own room, and throwing herself upon the bed, burst into a fit of passionate weeping.
“I hate Aunt Prudence! I hate her, so I do! She’s always scolding and slapping me. I wish she was dead instead of mother. O mother, mother! why, O why, did you die and leave me? I can’t be good without you. I do try to be good, but Aunt Prudence always makes me naughty. I can’t help hating her when she’s so cross. O mother, mother! come back, come back!”
Poor little Ella was an orphan; though she could remember a time when she had had a kind father and mother who loved her dearly, and tried to teach her to do what was right; but her father had been lost at sea, and her mother, who had never seemed well after she had heard of the loss of the vessel, had now been lying for nearly a year in the graveyard of the little town where Aunt Prudence and Ella lived. Ella was naturally a very warm-hearted, affectionate child, but careless, thoughtless and meddlesome; faults which, to Aunt Prudence, with her precise ways and strict notions of propriety and neatness, seemed most inexcusable. She really loved the desolate child who had been left to her care, but she had her own way of showing it. She was careful to provide the little girl with all that she considered necessary for her comfort, and, as she said, took a great deal of pains to teach her habits of neatness and order; but Ella, even more than most children, needed “line upon line, and precept upon precept,” and her aunt’s patience was apt to be soon exhausted. Ella’s mother had always taken a great deal of pains to correct her faults, but she was very patient; always talked with her about the folly and wickedness of her behaviour, and tried to make her see the reasonableness of her requirements; and when she punished her, she did it in such a way as to convince the child that it was done for her good, and not because her mother was in a passion. But now, when Ella tore her frock, meddled with what did not belong to her, or what she had been told not to touch, left her things lying about the room, or did anything else that was naughty, Aunt Prudence would scold her in loud, angry tones, calling her “the most provoking, troublesome child that ever was born,” or perhaps box her ears, and send her out of the room. When her mother punished her, Ella had always felt sorry for her faults, and determined to try to do better, but Aunt Prudence’s angry, impatient way was apt to rouse her naturally quick temper, and sometimes she flew into a passion, which only served to convince her aunt that she really was a very wicked child.
Then when Ella, her passion over, would come full of penitence to her aunt’s side, to put her arms round her neck, as she used to do to her mother, and say how sorry she was, aunt Prudence would push her from her, saying, “Go away, Ella, I don’t want such a wicked little girl near me. You’re the most ungrateful child that ever I saw. If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t have a roof to cover your head, nor a bite of victuals to put in your mouth, nor a rag to your back; for your father didn’t leave you a dollar, and yet whenever I try to do my duty, and make a good girl of you, you fly into a most dreadful passion. No, just go away out of my sight; I don’t want any kisses from such a wicked child!”
Sometimes such treatment would cause a second fit of rage, and sometimes it sent her to her mother’s grave, to throw herself upon it and weep as though her heart would break.
We left Ella, this afternoon, crying by herself in her own little room. At first they were all angry tears; but, though a quick-tempered child, her passion never lasted very long. She had been accustomed to go to her mother with all her little troubles, and very bitterly did she feel the loss of that dear friend, when in need of sympathy and kindness. Her present trouble made her long for her mother, and then as her angry feelings subsided, she began to think of that mother’s reproofs and instructions. How often had she warned her of the great wickedness of indulging her temper, and entreated her to try to govern it! How often she had talked to her of the kindness of her aunt in taking her, a poor, friendless, penniless child into her house, and providing for her, and of the duty of obeying and trying to please her! Ella could not feel that her aunt was very kind, for she was always scolding and punishing her, but still her conscience told her she had done very wrong, and that she ought to obey and love her aunt, and as she thought of all this, she wept tears of real penitence, and made many resolutions to behave better in future.
“I will tell aunt Prudence I am sorry, and will try never to be so naughty again; just as I used to tell mamma, my own dear mamma,” said she to herself.
“Ella!” called out the shrill, sharp voice of her aunt from the foot of the stairs, “Ella, come down here this minute, and get your supper. What in the world are you staying up there all this time in the cold for? To catch a cold, and give me the trouble of nursing you through a spell of sickness, I suppose.”
Ella rose and went down into the dining room with the full intention of acknowledging her faults, and asking forgiveness; but aunt Prudence looked so cold and stern, that when she tried to speak, the words seemed to stick in her throat. The meal passed off in almost total silence, and Ella was glad when it was over. Her aunt spoke to her but once, and then it was to scold her for spilling her tea.
Ella cried herself to sleep that night thinking of her mother, and her first thought, on waking next morning, was that she was going to be very good all day, and not make aunt Prudence scold her once. But alas, poor child! she forgot to pray for help to keep her good resolutions. It was late when she waked, and she dressed in great haste lest she should not be ready for breakfast, for which her aunt would certainly have punished her. She said her prayers, it is true, for she had been too well taught to think of omitting them altogether, but she hurried through them with very little thought of what she was saying, so that she really did not pray at all, for “God is a spirit, and they that worship him, must worship him in spirit, and in truth,” and he will not hear nor answer the prayer which comes from the lips only.
Children, if you wish to be kept from sin, to be enabled to perform the duties of the day in a proper manner, never dare to begin it without sincere prayer to God for his assistance; and Oh! wherever you are, at home, at school, in the street, at your studies, or at your play, remember that the eye of God is upon you, that he notices all your words and actions, and that you will have to give an account to him for all that you do and say, and for the manner in which you perform every duty.
Breakfast over, Ella prepared for school. Taking her satchel of books, and her dinner basket, — for the school was at some distance, and she usually carried her dinner in cold weather, — and bidding her aunt good morning, she set off.
It was the district school which Ella attended, and it was usually taught by a man in the winter and a lady in the summer. Mr. Burton was the name of the present teacher. He was not remarkable for patience, and was sometimes very severe. The school was nearly a quarter of a mile from Ella’s home. She walked along briskly enough, until she had gone rather more than half way, but then having reached a pond where the children of the village were in the habit of skating and sliding in their play-hours, she said to herself, “It was only half-past eight when I started; I’m sure I might take time to slide a little while. To be sure Mr. Burton says we must never stop to play by the way, but then I shall only stay a very few minutes, and if I get to school in time, it won’t make any difference; so I’ll just lay my books and my dinner down on this snow bank, and have a real good slide all by myself.”
“She suddenly perceived a dog at her dinner-basket.”
Time flies very rapidly when children are playing, and while the rest of Mr. Burton’s pupils were entering the school-house in answer to the bell, Ella was taking just one more and one more slide across the pond. She was on the side opposite to the one where she had left her books, when she suddenly perceived a dog at her dinner basket. She made all the haste she could, but he was too quick for her, and was off with the contents of the basket before she reached the place. She chased him for a long distance, for she felt quite unwilling to lose her dinner, but at length he was quite out of sight, and she gave it up in despair. All out of breath with running, she returned to the spot where she had left her books, and picking them up, hurried on to school, for she now began to be quite frightened at the thought that it must be long past school time, and thinking to shorten her walk by going across a field, she climbed the fence, but in doing so caught her dress and tore a long slit which she must stop to pin up, and that took her much longer than it would have done to go by the road. She had at last almost reached the school-house, when she was met by two of the scholars who were going for water.
“Has school commenced, girls?” asked Ella.
“Yes! nearly an hour ago, I should think,” said Sally Barnes. “How on earth did you come to be so late? You’ll catch it, I can tell you; for the master’s got the headache this morning, and he’s as cross as a bear.”
Ella burst into tears. “Oh!” said she, “I just stopped a few minutes to play on the ice, and then a dog ran away with my dinner, and I had to run after him. O dear! what shall I do? I wish I had come straight to school.”
“Never mind, Ellie,” said Mary Young, who was a very kind-hearted girl, and felt sorry to see her cry, “you can just tell him that your aunt sent you on an errand, and you couldn’t get back any sooner.”
“But that would be telling a lie, Mary, and I could never do that,” replied Ella, for with all her faults she was a perfectly truthful child. “My mother always told me it was a dreadful sin to say what was not true, and when she was dying she told me never, never to tell a lie. Oh no, I wouldn’t tell him that to keep him from killing me.”
“Oh, let her alone, Mary,” said Sally, “if she fancies a whipping, I’m sure she’s welcome to it for all I care. But come along or we’ll catch it too.”
“You had better take my advice, Ellie,” said Mary, turning to go.
Ella hung up her bonnet and cloak in the hall, entered the school room, and went to her seat as softly as possible, in hope that the teacher would not notice her. Vain hope!
“Ella Clinton!” he called out in his sternest tones, “come here to me.” Trembling with fear she obeyed. “Do you know what time it is, miss?” said he, looking at his watch. “Ten minutes to ten; nearly an hour past school time. Where have you been?”
Poor Ella caught at the desk for support. The room was so still that the ticking of the watch could be distinctly heard.
All were waiting in breathless silence for her answer.
“Speak!” thundered the master, “where have you been?”
“I stopped to slide a little on the ice, and” —
“You did, did you? I’ll teach you to do that again. Hold out your hand here. I’ll make an example of you. You needn’t think you’ll escape a flogging because you’re a girl,” and taking hold of her little tender hand, he brought his heavy ruler down upon it again and again, until the palm was all blistered, and then sent her to her seat without one word of commendation for having told the truth.
“I say, Jim,” whispered one boy to another, “that’s what folks get for telling the truth.”
“What are you whispering about there, sir?” called out the teacher.
“I wasn’t whispering; I was just saying, the lesson over to myself.”
“Well, sir, keep your eyes on the book when you move your lips, or I shall flog you for whispering.”
“I’m not going to be such a fool as to tell on myself just to get a licking,” muttered the boy, with his eyes fixed on the book.
Poor Ella! everything seemed to go wrong with her that day. So much time had been lost, and her mind was so taken up with her troubles, that it seemed impossible to learn her lessons, and she failed in every one; for which she was of course punished. She lost her place, and was in disgrace all day. She would have been without her dinner also, if some of her kind-hearted schoolmates had not shared with her. Oh, how long the day seemed! but it was over at last; school was dismissed, and Ella walked slowly and sadly homeward, dreading the moment when aunt Prudence should learn the sad accident which had befallen her dress. She was considering, as she walked along, what would be her wisest course of action, and remembering that her mother had often told her, if she would come and inform her immediately of an accident, without any attempt at concealment or deception, she would not punish her; she thought she would try that plan with her aunt. For once, Ella remembered to put her hood and cloak, her satchel and dinner-basket, in their places. She then entered the sitting-room, where Miss Prudence sat in her easy-chair beside the fire, stitching away industriously as usual. She looked up from her work as Ella opened the door, and exclaimed: —
“Why, Ella Clinton! where have you been, and what have you been about, to get that great, long slit in your dress? Come here to me this instant, and tell me how you tore it.”
“I was just climbing a fence, aunt Prudence,” sobbed the child, “and it caught and tore.”
“Climbing a fence! and what were you doing that for, I’d like to know? Do you think I’m made of money, and have nothing to do with it but to spend it in buying dresses for you to tear up this way? You haven’t worn that dress three weeks, and just look at it now; nearly ruined. You’re always climbing fences and trees. A perfect tom-boy you are, besides being the most careless, troublesome, ungrateful child I ever laid my eyes on. But I’ll see if I can’t put a stop to it. You shall just sit down here, and darn that yourself, and do it well too, and not a mouthful of victuals shall you have until it’s done; and you deserve a good switching before you go to bed. Now just stop your crying, for I’ll not have it.”
It was very late before Ella got her supper that night, for darning was a new business to her, the rent was a very long one, aunt Prudence very particular, and she herself, after all the labours and troubles of the day, very weary, and fingers and eyes ached sadly, long before the task was accomplished.
“It’s no use to try to be good,” sobbed the poor child to herself, as she wet her pillow with her tears. “I did mean to be good to-day, but the more I try, the more I can’t. Oh, mother, mother, I can’t be good without you! I wish I was dead too, and I do believe aunt Prudence wishes I was. I don’t believe she loves me at all, for she never kisses me, nor calls me her dear little girl, like you used to, and she’s always scolding me, and calling me bad and troublesome.”
Ella did not stop to play on the way, next morning, but went directly to school; nor did she climb fences or trees again for some time, but still she was almost always in disgrace, and continually getting punished, both at home and at school, for there was scarcely a day that she did not fail in one or more of her lessons, or forget or lose something; either her book, pen, pencil or ink.
At last Mr. Burton called upon her aunt to complain of her carelessness and indolence. “I can’t help it, Mr. Burton,” said aunt Prudence; “I’ve tried as hard as ever anybody could, to make her orderly and industrious, but I can’t do it. She’s a very bad child I know, but I can’t help it. I’m sure I’ve done my duty. There’s never a day passes over my head, that I don’t give her a scolding or may be a whipping, but it don’t seem to do a bit of good; indeed I believe she grows worse instead of better. She’s enough to try the patience of Job, as I often tell her, and such an awful temper as she has got! you never saw any thing like it. I used to think she was a tolerably good child while her mother was living, but there’s no doing any thing with her lately. The more I scold and punish her, the worse she seems to grow: I don’t see that she’ll ever be good for any thing, but there’s one comfort, I’ve done my duty by her.”
It was very true; Ella was growing worse and worse. She made many resolutions to do better, but try as hard as she might, aunt Prudence never seemed to notice it; never gave her a word of praise or encouragement, and always found something to scold her for, and so the poor child grew discouraged, and gave up trying. “It’s no use to try to be good, and please aunt Prudence,” she would say to herself, “for she always scolds me just the same. Mother used to smile, and tell me she was glad to see me trying to do right, and then it seemed easier, but aunt Prudence never does, and I won’t try to please her any more.”
One morning Ella reached the school room unusually early; it still wanted nearly an hour to school time, and there were but two other scholars present. A few moments had been spent in talking together, when Ella, who had been walking about, looking into the desks, suddenly exclaimed, “Why Mr. Burton has left his desk unlocked! O girls, let’s play school! I’ll be teacher and have you for my scholars.”
The others assented. I have told you that one of Ella’s faults was a habit of meddling with other people’s things.
She now proceeded to take out Mr. Burton’s inkstand, copper-plate copies, ruler, &c., and place them on the outside of the desk.
“Oh! Ella!” exclaimed Rachel Frost, “aren’t you afraid to touch Mr. Burton’s things? Why he’ll whip you like everything if he finds it out.”
“Oh, but he won’t know it, Rachel, for I’ll put them all back before he comes, and I know you and Louisa won’t tell.”
“No, of course we won’t; but you’d better take care, or he may come in and catch you.”
“No danger,” said Ella, “he never comes more than ten minutes before school time.” And secure in this confidence, she went on playing teacher until in bringing down the ruler upon the desk, in imitation of Mr. Burton when he would call out “Silence!” to the scholars, she accidentally hit the inkstand.
The glass was shivered by the blow, and in an instant the black streams were running over the desk, and the copies.
Poor Ella was terribly frightened. “Oh! what shall I do? what shall I do?” she exclaimed, bursting into tears. “Oh! I wish I hadn’t been meddling.”
Her schoolmates were very sorry for her, and did all they could to help and comfort her, but the mischief could not be undone.